Book review and synopsis for The Last Graduate (Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik, The second installment in Novik's fantasy trilogy.
In The Last Graduate, the second installment in Naomi Novik's fantasy trilogy, El is now a senior at Scholomance, a school for magically gifted kids.
With graduation looming, El and her allies must prepare for the ceremony which typically involves mass deaths of a majority of the class. All the while, El continues to wrest with her natural affinity for death and destruction.
As El starts to daring to dream about what her life after Scholomance might look like, even with the specter of the many deaths that graduation promises, she is determined to find a way to get herself and her friends out of Scholomance.
(The Detailed Plot Summary is also available, below)
Detailed Plot SummaryChapter-by-Chapter SummarySee the Chapter-by-Chapter Summary of The Last Graduate (Scholomance #2)Quick Plot Summary
The one-paragraph version of this: In Book 2, El manages to get her entire class to work together so they can all graduate from Scholomance alive. However, El soon figures out that Scholomance wants them to do more than that -- it wants them to permanently solve the problem of bunches of students dying each year. They finally decide to lure all the mals everywhere into Scholomance and destroy the school. The plan somehow succeeds, but as all the students escape, Orion stays behind to prevent a very powerful maw-mouth from escaping.
The book opens right after the freshmen have been inducted. El is now officially a senior, and she has just gotten the message from her mother warning her to stay away from Orion Lake (which El promptly ignores). She and Orion also don't know if their attempt to fix the machinery for culling mals in the Graduation Hall was successful or not.
As classes resume, El notices she is the only student being attacked by mals. She suspects that it's because she was meant to be dark, destructive balancing element to Orion's heroics, but because she hasn't gone in that direction, the school is trying to take her out. Her alliance (El, Aadhya and Liu) ends up taking on Chloe, a New York enclaver, in order to get access to Chloe's power-sharer (because El is using excessive amounts of mana trying to fend off mals to protect both herself and those around her).
When El fends off a particularly difficult mal attack that is seen by many, kids start to see her as possibly a really important piece (a "game changer") in the struggle for dominance among the enclaves. Outside Scholomance, it's suspected that there may be an enclave war that's brewing. They know from the freshmen bringing in news that the Bangkok enclave has been destroyed.
Most notably the Shanghai and New York enclaves have been headed toward a power struggle since there is a reallocation of the distribution of Scholomance seats coming up soon. The Shanghai enclave was formerly an ancient, small enclave until 40 years ago when a powerful, game-changing artificer decided he wanted to remake his family enclave instead of joining a more influential enclave. In the eighties, Shanghai demanded that Scholomance include a Chinese-language track (before it was English-only). However, currently, the distribution of seats is still tilted towards English-speaking enclaves so that it is more competitive to enter from an Asian country.
The animosity between Shanghai and New York results in the Shanghai kids distrusting El since they see her as being aligned with Orion and Chloe (both New Yorkers). They've also rarely been in the same classes due to the language barrier. On the school's field day, the Shanghai enclave launches an attack against El (which she manages to rebuff), since they see her as a tool of destruction that will later be used against them and their families.
Meeanwhile, El has been training the mouse familiar that Liu gave her (Precious), and translating the Golden Stone Sutras book that she came across last year that contains very rare spells to build an enclave. Despite her invite to join the New York enclave, El starts to imagine a future where she travels the world helping to build tiny enclaves (instead of having all the power, safety and influence of enclaves being held in the hands of a select few).
At the mid-year point, the senior classes are officially over so they can prep for graduation. Part of the gym is turned into a training course with simulated mals, though it is still dangerous because real mals can hide in it to attack students. After a near death for one of El's friends who was saved by someone El dislikes, El realizes that she isn't satisfied with protecting just her alliance or even just her friends. Instead, El becomes determined to figure out a way to save her entire class.
El's friends support her idea, and kids who don't love the idea understand that compliance is their best chance to survive. Soon, they are doing training rounds with increasing numbers of kids. Despite all this, the Chinese language kids are still skeptical of El and refuse to participate.
One day, the Shanghai enclave attacks again when El and Orion are alone. They're able to defend themselves, but then El's allies arrive, ready to join in the fight and it looks like a showdown between the two groups is about to happen. However, El uses a powerful spell to cause everyone to stop what they're doing. She uses the opportunity to reiterate (in English and Chinese) that her only goal is to get everyone out alive. After that, the Chinese-speaking kids start to come around to trusting El.
The training course gets progressively more difficult, but the group keeps reiterating and improving their strategy to be able to meet its challenges. Still, El thinks about how even after her class gets out alive, it will only be a short while before the culling mechanism stops working again and tons of kids are being slaughtered again each year. Then, one day the school reveals a path beckoning El to visit the graduation hall. She goes and realizes it is completely free of mals so all of their training is unnecessary.
Moreover, El starts to think about how Scholomance has a bit of a mind of its own. The original stated mission of the school was to protect all young wizards. In actual practice, it ended up heavily favoring enclavers and the mal culling machinery failed so that three quarters of each class of students dies. El considers that perhaps the school was never out to get her -- instead it was pushing her and challenging her so that she could help it fulfill its original stated purpose.
El emerges the hall with the realization that Scholomance wants her to find a way to fix it. She immediately tells the others what she's learned and what she thinks their real goal is supposed to be. As kids consider this and share ideas, the school reinforces El's message by punishing those who don't get on board.
Eventually, Liu pitches the idea that perhaps the goal should be to lure all the mals from everywhere into the school and then proceed to destroy the school. That way, young wizards everywhere, including the ones from outside who currently have very little chance of survival, will be safer. The next few months are spent perfecting this ambitious plan.
When the big day finally arrives, El and Orion end up sleeping together and Orion professes that he wants to be wherever El is even if it's not New York. El then shares with him her enclave-building dream, and he agrees to do it with her.
When graduation starts, all the kids file out, starting with the freshmen and ending with the seniors. An elaborate speaker system has been set up to draw the mals deep into the school, with Orion responsible for using his enhanced combat abilities and mana generating abilities to fight and create a barrier between the students and the mals. El stays inside near the exit to be able to cast the final spell to destroy the school, locking the mals in the void.
The plan goes according to plan, but when it's finally time to leave and the window to do so is quickly closing, Orion hesitates. There is a maw-mouth (very dangerous mal) near the exit, and there's a possibility it could escape behind them. The book ends with Orion pushing El out the exit and staying to kill the maw-mouth.
For more detail, see the full Chapter-by-Chapter Summary.